Darren and I first arrived in Nepal in 1993, and we were immediately excited by the thought of learning Nepali. We were also fairly naïve! But we were keen, and we were particularly motivated by the thought of making new friends at our local church, and in the community. Part of our initial plan was to learn the first names of all the people we met. We even had a little book at home where we tried to document all the names… once we’d heard them during the day.

But the first thing we noticed was that when our Nepali friends spoke to each other, they didn’t often use first names. Instead, they used generic names. In Nepali, there are words for older sister (didi) and younger sister (bahini), older brother (daju), and younger brother (bhai). And these words are then used in place of given names, for all your close friends, not just for your real siblings.

In some ways, we soon realized, it actually made life easier. We didn’t rely on the little book as much… but it is also added to our sense of family. There is a real richness in addressing your friends as family members, and it also fits with the welcoming, relational nature of Nepali society. There is so much that we can learn from Nepali society! And for Darren and I, the use of the generic words quickly added to our sense of intimacy with our Nepali friends.

For me particularly, back in 1993, I was only 25, so I was often referred to by my Nepali friends as ‘bahini’ (little sister). Most of the local women I met during those years (and became close with) were older than me, so they called me bahini every day, and it quickly became a really affectionate term for me. I didn’t have sisters of my own (back in Australia), so I loved being their little sister. I also loved the way that many expatriates in INF would also use the words with each other. We would all call each other didi, bahini, daju, and bhai. Of course, the only potential problem was that you had to quickly work out whether that particular friend was older or younger than you, and then hope that you hadn’t offended them in the process. On top of that, if someone was significantly older than you, and close to you, you could call them aama (mum) or baa (dad) and if they were extremely old, you could even call them hajur aama or hajur baa (grandma or grandad).

Anyway, in that first year, we enjoyed the new system, and by 1994, the concept of being everyone’s bahini was a lovely thing in my mind. And then, one day in 1994, we were sitting in Nepali church at Nayagaon. The room was packed. The preacher stood up and he announced (in Nepali) that he would be speaking from Matthew 12:46-50. We all turned to Matthew 12 in our Nepali Bibles. The preacher began his sermon, describing Jesus, who had been busy that day with the crowd, and his mother and brothers were outside, waiting to speak with him. Apparently, one of the crowd told Jesus that his family were there, but Jesus said to him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” Then Jesus pointed at his disciples and he said, “Here they are. Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”

Except that in Nepali, the text read, in effect, “Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my bhai, my bahini, my amma.”

Jesus called me his bahini. I sat there in church, quite overcome. I was part of Jesus’ intimate family. I was his loved, little sister. I was treated with utmost affection. I had of course, read the passage before in English and I’d always known that I was Jesus’ sister, theoretically. But it took on a whole new meaning that day, being known as Jesus’ bahini’. The word had so much richness and association for me. It helped me to understand in a deeper way that Jesus’ purpose on earth was to invite everyone into his close family – the lost, the broken, the sick, the empty – and that included all of us, in every tribe and language and even in remote Himalayan villages. The amazing thing for me was the assurance that when we each respond to Jesus’ invitation (and when we long to follow him), then we are called his family – we are called his bahini, his bhai, his aama.

Twenty six years later, back in the Blue Mountains, Australia, the thought of being Jesus’ bahini still makes me feel quite overcome. It still makes me smile, and it fills me with a particular kind of thankfulness. And of course, it connects me deeply to the body of Christ, worldwide, including in Nepal, and it challenges me to respond well, as part of that remarkable family.

Breathing the Bible is an INF Australia blog series, exploring how life and service in Nepal influenced the way people read and respond to Scripture.

Naomi Reed is a writer, speaker and storyteller. She served in Nepal with INF from 1993-1996, 2003-2006.

Other posts in the series:
Breathing The Bible: Prayer
Breathing The Bible: Fellowship
Breathing The Bible: Justice
Breathing The Bible: Story
Breathing The Bible: Sacrifice
Breathing The Bible: Kingdom
Breathing The Bible: Wedding
Breathing The Bible: Gain

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